"So there are three suspects. Just the right number. Tell me who they are"
"Okay, but what do you mean with just the right number? The right number for what?"
"Kirigamine Ryou and the Strange Incident at Gourd Pond"
Of course, now I regret not having waited with posting my translation, but for those who want to get into a Chrismas detective mood, I recommend my translation of Oosaka Keikichi's short story, Kan no Yobare I posted two months ago. It has Santa Claus disappearing in the snowy sky, what more do you want?
Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series
Manabanai Tanteitachi no Gakuen ("The School of the Detectives Who Don't Learn")
Satsui wa Kanarazu Sando Aru ("Murderous Intent Always Comes Three Times")
Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni ("After School, Together With Mystery")
Tanteibu he no Chousenjou - Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni 2 ("A Challenge to the Detective Club - After School, Together With Mystery 2")
Higashigawa Tokuya might be best known for his Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series, which has also been made into a succesful TV series, motion picture, but it's not my favorite series by him. Nor is it his Ikagawashi town series (which is also being made into a TV series). No, my favorite is the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series. Or to be precise, the spin-off series of that. I absolutely loved the misadventures of high school girl Kiragamine Ryou in Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni, and by now I have written reviews of the NHK radio drama, the Momogre audio drama, the stories that weren't adapted and even made translations of two stories (here and here), in case you hadn't noticed I had a weak spot for the series. So when I heard the second volume, Tanteibu he no Chousenjou - Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni 2 ("A Challenge to the Detective Club - After School, Together With Mystery 2"), was released, I knew I had to read it immediately. Like the first volume, Tanteibu he no Chousenjou is a short story collection starring the vice-president of the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club, Kirigamine Ryou. And make no mistake: the Detective Club is not a club where they read and write mystery fiction (like the Kyoto University Mystery Club), but a club where the members try to solve real-life cases (they don't really have results, so the school just barely acknowledges them as a club though).
The main Koigakubo Academy Detective Club follows third year students Tamagawa (club president), Yatsuhashi (fake Kansai dialect speaker) and second year student Akasaka Tooru (duped into becoming a member) as they get involved with murders and other heinous crimes (they never manage to solve the crimes themselves though). The Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni spinoff series however has less bloody crimes: Kirigamine Ryou's misadventures all spring forth from non-bloody, normal school activities. The first volume had fellow students assaulting each other, people disappearing from hallways and more of these (mostly) non-violent, yet not less mystifying puzzles. Tanteibu he no Chousenjou continues this tradition with another set of impossible school mysteries.
The first three stories are set in the fall, with school activities like the sports festival and the school festival on the mind of both students and teachers. In Kirigamine Ryou to Watarirouka no Kaijin ("Kirigamine Ryou and the Phantom of the Passageway"), (self-proclaimed) superstar of the trackfield, Adachi Shunsuke, is once again knocked out by someone, this time in the middle of a covered hallway connecting two buildings. The hallway also divides an inner court in two, and because the exits into the buildings were locked, the assailant could only have fled into either side of the inner court. The problem: witnesses on both sides say nobody fled through there, and footprints on the wet ground proof that. How did the assailant get away? The solution is a bit difficult to deduce, maybe, but it works because of the school setting of this series, as well as the humoristic tone of the story and the characters. Not the best of Kirigamine's impossible capers, but fun.
Kirigamine Ryou to Hyoutan Ike no Kaijiken ("Kirigame Ryou and the Strange Incident at Gourd Pond") is a special story, even if only for the fact that this is the first time the vice-president of the Detective Club actually meets the protagonists of the main series! Like they comment: 'they must have just missed each other all those times they were involved with cases'. The case itself involves a student infamous for his aggresive love life being assaulted by a girl during the school festival. The members of the club happened to witness the incident and they all swear the victim was attacked with a stick-like object, yet the victim has distinct cutting wounds, and no weapon was found despite the assailant having fled without anything in her hand. Where did the weapon go? The idea behind the disappearing
And the school festival is a very popular day for cases, because immediately after the Gourd Pond incident, another one pops up! In Kirigamine Ryou he no Chousen ("A Challenge for Kirigamine Ryou), our heroine is fooled into entering the Koigakubo Academy Mys-Contest. Not Miss Contest. Mys-Contest. As in Mystery Contest. Kirigamine Ryou has made a name as a (self-proclaimed) detective beauty, but she'll have to fight for that title now, as she is being challenged by the club president of... the Mystery Club (i.e. the school club where they read and write detective fiction, as opposed to the Detective Club, where they solve crimes). Can Kirigamine Ryou solve the locked room murder (it's murder because the student playing the victim has a piece of paper on him saying he's dead)? Is it a fair mystery? Yes... and no, but this story once again shows that Higashigawa Tokuya is really good at combining humorous storylines with good detective plots with well-written hints and foreshadowing. The competition element only adds to the fun of this story. This is done again in Kirigamine Ryou he no Nidome no Chousen ("The Second Challenge for Kirigamine Ryou), where Kirigamine Ryou is challenged to solve the murder on her fellow member Akasaka (once again, he's dead because he is holding a piece of paper saying so) and a variation on the footprints-in-the-snow puzzle. Once again hard to say whether this was a fair story, and the solution is not particularly original (in fact, I am pretty sure I've seen a variotion on it in another Higashigawa story before), but the whole rivals element does make it one of the more memorable stories in the collection.
In Kirigamine Ryou to Juunigatsu no UFO (Kirigamine Ryou and the December UFO"), a priest is knocked out in the middle of a muddy church court, with no footprints but that of the two first on the scene, Kirigamine Ryou and her geography teacher, Ikegami (who still has that obsession for aliens). With no footprints and a witness saying she saw something fly away, it seems like an UFO might have been responsible... Very similar to the first story in the collection in idea, yet very different in execution and pretty funny too (especially because of the enigmatic (foreign) sister, whose Japanese is... very interesting). A trick that would only work because of the setting and atmosphere of this series, but it works well because of it.
Kirigamine Ryou to Eigabu no Misshitsu ("Kirigamine Ryou and the Locked Room of the Movie Club") is a varation on a plot that was featured much in the first collection, the disappearance from a building of which the exits were watched. The TV from the Movie Club (they don't just watch movies, they make them) was stolen from the club room and found damaged behind the incinerator, but the two exits to the club room building were under constant observation by the drama club members and a smoking, delinquent student. How did the culprit carry a 40 inch TV out of a building without being seen? Probably the easiest to solve of the whole collection, but even then one has to admit that some of the hinting was done really well.
Like Hoch's Dr Sam Hawthorne series, the Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni series features mostly impossible crime situations in a limited setting (Koigakubo Academy). The way the stories develop is as predictable as the Dr. Sam Hawthorne series, but they do feature similar situations very often. Footprint-less paths, disappearing weapons and disappearances from observed locations cover about 80% of the series, and it can feel a bit tiring. Kirigamine Ryou to Hyoutan Ike no Kaijiken and Kirigamine Ryou to Oreimairi no Nazo for example are extremely similar, and it's like Higashigawa came up with two solutions for the same situation, and decided to use both of them. I would't have minded a bit more variety.
Though I must say this again (I say this every time I do a Higashigawa Tokuya review), but I really, really love how he manages to combine the humorous aspects of a story with his mystery plots. At his best, Higashigawa can show you a vital hint ten times without you even realizing it's a hint, simply because it's so well hidden within the humurous parts of his story. And then you realize that the gag wasn't just a gag. He does it with all his stories, but I've always thought it worked best with the Koigakubo Academy series, because the light-hearted school setting seems the best fit for his style. Some tricks you can only pull off with the energy and imagination of kids.
And this is the first time Kirigamine Ryou actually meets the other members of the club, which is fun, yet a bit strange. Yet, I hope that Kirigamine Ryou's adventures stay as murder-free and light-hearted. I definitely wouldn't want her to appear in the main Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series with 'normal' murders and such, because it doesn't really fit her character. But the ending of this volume really makes me wonder how both this spin-off series, and the main series are going to continue.
Tanteibu he no Chousenjou - Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni 2 was not as surprising as the first volume, but it still offers a unique experience as a humorous collection of impossible
Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉『探偵部への挑戦状 放課後はミステリーとともに２』: 「霧ヶ峰涼と渡り廊下の怪人」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼と瓢箪池の怪事件」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼への挑戦」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼と十二月のＵＦＯ」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼と映画部の密室」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼への二度目の挑戦」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼とお礼参りの謎 」